Down on the farm

An exciting project is aiming to give youngsters from urban areas of Norwich and Great Yarmouth a taste of life in the countryside to encourage them to live a healthy lifestyle. EMMA LEE catches up with them on a visit to a farm.

Norfolk is a largely rural county and the livelihoods of thousands of people depends on agriculture.

A group of children from urban areas of Norwich and Great Yarmouth have been learning how food gets from field to fork as part of an exciting scheme which aims to encourage them to live a healthy lifestyle.

Funded by the Big Lottery's Local Food Fund and run by the Country Trust, the Food Discovery Project aims to inspire them by growing fruit, vegetables and herbs in their own allotment, finding out how to cook their crops, meeting some of the county's food champions and discovering the tasty food that is produced right here in Norfolk, such as Cromer crab, Dapple cheeses and rare breed sausages.

For the last couple of weeks the children taking part have been down on the farm.

The youngsters will each be visiting three different farms which produce different kinds of food.

Seven different farms are hosting the visits including the Grange at Rollesby, which grows soft fruit such as raspberries and asparagus.

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'It's a fantastic opportunity for the children to learn how raspberries, which they are growing on their allotments, are grown on a commercial scale. They also grow asparagus and I don't think many of the children have tasted asparagus,' says project manager Christabelle Dilks.

The other farms taking part are the Stody Estate, the Raveningham Estate, Mill Farm at Great Witchingham, which is a small organic farm with cattle, Morley Farm near Wymondham, which grows cereal, the Crown Point Estate, which grows cereal and mint, and Norton's Dairy at Frettenham where the youngsters got to see where the milk in their fridge comes from.

'The whole idea behind farm visits is that children get to see how the food that they eat ends up on their plate. What we are trying to do is paint a picture for them. They will understand growing and how meat is produced,' says Christabelle.

'They've been collecting eggs from the chickens and they'd never really imagined how an egg ends up in their fridge. To see them respond to it is lovely.'

And it's not just meeting the animals that has fired their imagination. Christabelle says that the farm visits have helped the children appreciate how important it is that their own crops succeed and to protect and nurture them.

'They love the animals, the cows and calves, but they've responded really quickly to the growing too,' says Christabelle. 'They are beginning to understand how important it is that the vegetables thrive. The kids have made fantastic scarecrows on their allotments.'

The first group of pupils taking part in the scheme, who come from Cobholm Primary, St Nicholas Priory and Edward Worlledge in Great Yarmouth, and Mile Cross, West Earlham and Lakenham primaries in Norwich, have already been hard at work on their own allotments, planting fruit, vegetables and herbs.

Outdoors they've sown broad beans, raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, potatoes, onions and garlic.

Then they're growing beetroot, carrot and lettuce plus parsley, thyme, mint and chives in a polytunnel.

To encourage the children to try new flavours, the growing sessions are interspersed with cooking sessions where trained chefs come to the schools and teach children, in groups of 15, to cook simple and delicious meals with the vegetables, herbs, and fruit they're growing on their allotment.

And it's hoped they'll pass the lessons they've learned on to their parents too.

The first of the cooking sessions, led by trainers Tara Taylor and Frances Webber from the Kiddy Cook organisation, has taken place, with spring vegetable soup with basil on the menu – and there was no trouble encouraging the youngsters to eat their greens.

And next time they'll be cooking with asparagus that they've seen on the farm.

'To see the children respond is amazing,' says Christabelle. 'It's a really exciting, interesting project.'